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Assistant High Commissioner for Protection in Thailand to discuss refugees, migrants at sea

Briefing notes

Assistant High Commissioner for Protection in Thailand to discuss refugees, migrants at sea

29 May 2015

UNHCR's Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Volker Türk, is in Bangkok attending a regional conference to find solutions for thousands of refugees and migrants moving irregularly by sea from the Bay of Bengal.

Organized by the Royal Thai Government, the Special Meeting on Irregular Migration in the Indian Ocean convenes 17 countries in the region to discuss common challenges. Some 88,000 Rohingya and Bangladeshis have risked their lives on smugglers' boats since 2014. More than 1,000 have died at sea.

The issue came to a head this month with the discovery of "mass graves" in Thailand and Malaysia believed to contain the remains of smuggling victims from Bangladesh and Myanmar. Crackdowns on these criminal networks have led smugglers to abandon thousands of captives at sea with little food and water.

Since May 10, more than 4,000 people have landed in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand. Rough estimates suggest that more than 2,000 more could still be in distress at sea and need urgent search and rescue.In Indonesia's Aceh province, UNHCR has completed the registration of some 1,000 Rohingya men, women and children. We continue to distribute relief supplies and provide counseling and family tracing for Rohingya arrivals in Thailand. UNHCR has also offered assistance to help the Malaysian government cope with the recent influx.

Ahead of today's meeting, UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) had shared a 10-point plan of action with concerned governments. It includes proposals to strengthen search and rescue operations and ensure timely disembarkation, identify and seek solutions for refugees among them, and support the return of economic migrants. It also encourages States to expand legal alternatives to dangerous movements and to address the root causes of such movements by providing humanitarian, human rights and development support.

UNHCR is scaling up its protection response to the recent boat arrivals, including in places of disembarkation and in seeking solutions for people in need of international protection. Following today's meeting the agency will launch an appeal for some $25 million to support States in the region in their joint efforts to save lives and manage the mixed flow of people at sea.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Bangkok, Vivian Tan on mobile +66 818 270 280
  • In Bangladesh, Onchita Shadman on mobile +880 171 309 0375
  • In Yangon, Kasita Rochanakorn on mobile +95 94 48 02 78 92
  • In Malaysia, Yante Ismail on mobile +601 3 352 6286
  • In Indonesia, Mitra Salima Suryono on mobile +62 818 157 962
  • In Geneva, Babar Baloch on mobile +41 79 557 9106